About: Ilona Bray

Ilona Bray is a former attorney and the author of several Nolo immigration books. Her working background includes both solo immigration practice and working or volunteering as an immigration attorney with nonprofit organizations in Seattle and California.

Recent Posts by Ilona Bray

One Person’s Junk Is Another’s Castle, in Ogden Utah

city illusAw, c’mon, are the city authorities really tearing down a kids’ cardboard fort in Ogden, Utah? It would appear so. According to news reports, Ogden City Code Enforcement ordered Jeremy and Dee Trentelman, parents, to remove the huge play castle that they’d put together for their two toddlers in their front yard.

It’s an impressive structure, built mostly of boxes, and containing a slide, trap door, tunnel, windows, and of course endless room for imagination. But the city is calling it “waste materials or junk,” and will penalize the Trentelmans $125 if they don’t get rid of it within 15 days.

Are cardboard castles really illegal in Ogden, Utah? To answer this, we have to go to the city codes. In Section 12-4-2 of the Property Maintenance Regulations, it says, “It is unlawful for any owner, occupant, agent or lessee of real property within the city, to allow, cause or permit the following material or objects to be in or upon any yard, garden, lawn, or outdoor premises of such property: 1. Junk or salvage material.”

That raises the obvious question, “What’s junk or salvage material?” As any lawyer can tell you, many laws and regulations contain a definitions section, and this one is no exception. Section 15-2-11 of the Definitions has this:

JUNK OR SALVAGE MATERIAL: Articles that are used, secondhand, worn out, obsolete, defective, destroyed or discarded and which may be reused or resold in their original form, or which may have outlived their usefulness in their original form and are commonly gathered up and sold to be converted into another product either of the same or a different kind by some manufacturing or recycling process, or which may be salvaged by separating, collecting, or retrieving reusable materials or parts therefrom. Junk or salvage material includes, but is not limited to, inoperable vehicles, auto parts or parts from other types of vehicles, tires, machinery or parts thereof, building materials, scrap metal or other scrap material, and recyclable materials when not located in a recycling processing center, but does not include refuse or hazardous materials. No article shall be considered “used” or “secondhand” for purposes of this definition, if the article is being used in its original form in conjunction with a main use established in conformance with this title, other than those uses involving salvaging or recycling. 

Okay, so arguably cardboard boxes, being used and recyclable, might be considered junk. But the more you look at this definition, the slipperier it gets. Would an artwork out of repurposed metal be junk? How about a faded plastic castle that was bought at a garage sale, and is therefore “used?”

The city can basically do what it wants with this definition, and it no doubt overlooks many objects that would meet it. So why did it go after the Trentelmans?

I would have guessed that a neighbor complained. The neighbors who were interviewed for the news coverage seemed supportive, but it just takes one to pick up the phone. Meanwhile, others in the community are actually building castles in solidarity! I’m looking forward to the photos.

Northwest Real Estate Connections Radio Features Nolo Author Ilona Bray

sell1_1_1Check out the April 1 (no joke!) edition of Northwest Real Estate Connections Radio, with hosts David and Patricia Wangsness, for an interview with Ilona Bray (otherwise known as “me”), author of various Nolo real estate products including the recently released Selling Your House: Nolo’s Essential Guide.

The show opens with David and Patricia’s insights regarding the current state of the real estate market, including some not-to-be-missed tips for first-time home buyers. My favorite: Don’t buy furniture on credit before the closing, which could damage your credit rating and interfere with final approval of your loan. And another good one, which I’m sure there’s a story or two behind: Don’t file for divorce before the closing.

My conversation with David and Patricia covered home-selling strategies, including getting to know your local market, being careful not to leap at all-cash offers if the cash is coming from outside the U.S., the pros and cons of getting a professional land survey done before the closing, and more.

Could Cuban Player Defections Really Mess Up New Baseball Relations?

If you heard today’s NPR story on “With Improved Relations, Are The U.S. And Cuba Ready To Play Ball?“, then you heard a reference to the little-known “Cuban Adjustment Act.” Cuba’s baseball commissioner, Heriberto Suarez Pereda, places the blame squarely on this piece of U.S. immigration legislation for Cuba having already lost a number of major — and minor — players to the U.S., and for the likelihood that any efforts to normalize baseball competition between the two countries will be hampered by the risk of more Cuban player defections.

What on earth is the Cuban Adjustment Act? Even some immigration attorneys — particularly those practicing far from the shores of Florida — may have never had cause to use it, if they’ve even heard of it. The law dates back to 1959 — a response to Castro assuming power in Cuba and setting up the first Communist state in the Western hemisphere.

The idea of the Act is that any Cuban who makes it past the U.S. Coast Guard to dry land will be welcomed in a way that no other undocumented immigrant is. If they can meet some basic admissibility requirements (i.e. they’re not criminals or threats to U.S. health or security) they may receive a period of what’s called “parole.” This is a quasi-legal status allowing them to remain in the U.S. without fear of deportation.

After one year of parole, they may apply for a U.S. green card (“adjustment of status”). That’s about as fast a track to U.S. residence as any non-citizen could ask for. (If you’re interested in the procedural details, see “Becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident Under the Cuban Adjustment Act.”)

Of course, normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations will take high-level agreements and probably new legislation, in the course of which this Act, too, might well be amended. Undoing decades of a broken diplomatic relationship may be more complex than it first appeared. But for two countries that revere baseball so much, there has to be a way, right?

U.S. Hits New Low in Treatment of Immigrants

150105potwI’ve always been glad to leave the immigration policy-making to others. When asked for my opinion on what should be done about, say, entry by undocumented immigrants, I’ll shake my head and say I can see both sides of the issue, and there’s no perfect solution.

But the one thing I’ve always said loud and clear is that, whatever the immigration law may be at the time, the U.S. government needs to do a better job at administering it consistently and fairly.

It’s always been a bit spotty in that regard — ask any immigration lawyer. You’ll hear horror stories about clients with great cases who were nevertheless denied the remedy or immigration benefit they applied for, were harassed for documents they couldn’t possibly have, were asked to produce evidence that was wholly irrelevant to their case, or were wrongly accused of lying because the officer seemed to be having a bad day.

But the events of the past year are enough to make one wonder whether U.S. immigration authorities have any regard for the law at all.

First, we’ve got the stories coming in from Artesia and other places processing Central American migrants fleeing violence there. In a damning report by Stephen Manning, he describes hearings at which women and children appeared before an immigration judge with a volunteer attorney by their side only to be told that the lawyer could neither speak to the judge nor to the lawyer’s own client. Last I heard, that’s a violation of the Fifth Amendment right to counsel, and contravenes the laws on asylum, which state that the U.S. shall not return people to a country where they fear persecution.

The U.S. government has simply ignored all this, claiming that the influx of migrants was a “national security threat.” Women and children, many of them from rural areas. Yeah, right.

Then we’ve got the on-again, off-again Executive Order of November 20, 2014 that promised an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and a new program called “DAPA” (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents).

On the very eve of when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) was to begin accepting applications under the expanded DACA program — by which time many potential applicants had been no doubt gathering documents, consulting with attorneys, and so on — a Texas judge pulled out the rug by issuing an injunction against the order.

Many legal scholars think the judge’s order was overtly political and legally unsound. So wouldn’t you think that, while we wait for the dust to settle, the immigration enforcement authorities would at least hold off on deporting people who might be helped by DAPA or expanded DACA? No!

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is going all out to deport them, according to a report by Brianna Lee for the International Business Times (“Immigration Reform: Authorities No Longer Shielding DAPA-Eligible Immigrants From Deportation Cases“). This is despite the fact that anyone eligible for either of these programs obviously has family ties in the U.S., which should put them way down at the bottom of the list of enforcement priorities according to longstanding policies on “prosecutorial discretion.”

Criminals are supposed to be first on ICE’s deportation priority list. That’s why, on the ICE website, it proudly displays photos of ICE officers escorting suspected criminals out of the U.S., as in the photo above (which I’m supposed to tell you is a “Photo Courtesy of ICE”). Funny, I don’t see any photos on the ICE site showing the deportation of women and children.

One hears a lot of complaining from within the U.S. that the migrants from Central America somewhere got the idea that they’d be welcome. Well, the U.S. is certainly disabusing them of that notion. But is it any wonder that the world isn’t clear on what U.S. immigration law actually says, when we can’t seem to agree on it from one week to the next?

Parking Spot Disputes Too Common a Source of Violence

CarKeys_ iStockNo final word yet on whether the recent Chapel Hill, North Carolina killings of three young Muslims of Arab descent was a religiously motivated hate crime, but it’s definitely a sad reminder of the fevered disputes that can arise over neighborhood parking spots.

According to a report in the Washington Post, “A preliminary investigation revealed that Hicks had previously clashed with his victims — husband and wife Deah Barakat and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Abu-Salha’s sister Razan — over parking spots in front of the apartment complex where they lived.”

Parking lot disputes between neighbors that turn deadly appear regularly in the U.S. news headlines. Take, for instance, “N.J. man gets 10 years for shooting man 4 times over parking spot,” from Newark in February, 2015; “Father slain in front of young son, caught up in feud between neighbors,” from Baltimore in January, 2015; and “Mom Watches Son Get Shot After Parking Space Argument & Reportedly Delivers Serious Reprisal,” from New York in May of 2014.

Those reports don’t even take us back as far as 2013! And they don’t include the all-too-many cases where someone gets shot over a dispute that wasn’t between neighbors but was, say, over a parking space at a restaurant, gas station, or Home Depot.

I need hardly mention that the law doesn’t give anyone a right to defend their parking space to the death. But in case anyone is curious as to who has rights to a neighborhood parking spot in the first place, here’s a basic rundown.

  • In a condo, apartment, or community run by a homeowners’ association, parking spots may be “assigned,” or even individually rented, in which case only one person has a right to park there.
  • On a public street, no one has ownership rights, not even to the spot in front of their house. (See Nolo’s Q&A, “Does my neighbor “own” a parking spot on a public street?“.)

Of course, there will always be neighbors who violate the laws or community rules, or simply do obnoxious things, like park their third car in front of your house and leave it there for weeks at a time. In light of the passions that can obviously arise over such transgressions, it might be wisest, if you’re the one who’s bothered by a neighbor’s parking habits, to request action from the authorities — a landlord, a homeowners’ association, or the municipal parking authorities (who will often ticket or tow a car that has been in one place for too long).

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